Six warning signs of bad customer service

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on February 22, 2008

Six warning signs of bad customer service

Many business owners and managers seem to be ignoring the main signs that customer service quality isn't as good as it should be, according to Bob Harris, managing director for The Attrition Busters, who has compiled a list of the six key signs to watch out for.

Businesses that deal with consumers seem to be suffering from a definite disconnect between the level of service they want to provide and the service that their employees actually provide.

Six signs of poor service As a result, Harris suggests the following six key signs that customer service may be in need of some attention - and most probably some staff training - to help restore the customer's faith:

  1. Poor employee retention If employees are leaving too quickly (i.e. within three years), there can be no real opportunity for them to build up relationships with customers. Knowledge about individual customers leaves the company with every lost employee. If this is the case, consider bringing in an outside HR (human resources) consultant to talk to employees and find out what needs to be done to change the situation; employees will often tell an 'outsider' things that they would never tell their manager.  
  2. Customer complaints On average, only around 6% of dissatisfied customers will actually take the time to complain. So, out of all the customers who encounter a problem, 94% won't tell you (but they'll tell their friends and family, of course). When these dissatisfied customers do gather the strength to actually complain, many front line employees have a natural instinct to refer the customer to someone else or, worse still, to deny that there's really a problem. So if management sees that there are very few complaints, that doesn't mean that customer service is perfect at all. If employees have not built relationships with customers, many customers will defect without any further prompting. Make sure that your front line teams are required to record all complaints and any action taken to solve them. Complaints data should be treasured, documented, and shared with management. If you're not getting complaint data from the front line, there's a serious problem.  
  3. Employees aren't empowered to handle problems Unless front line employees are empowered to resolve customer complaints and problems without resorting to calling supervisors or referring the customer to a manager, customer service - and the company's reputation - will suffer greatly. Customer issues should be handled from start to finish by the same person if at all possible. Customers do not want to wait or, even worse, be transferred to multiple people to have their problems solved. There is nothing worse than having to repeat the problem over and over again to different people. This is where you need employee training and empowerment: give the whole customer-facing team the knowledge, tools, and authority they need to defuse angry customers.  
  4. Loss of long-term customers When a long-term customer leaves, you need to notice it and query it. When you have built a long-term relationship with a customer, your ability to retain that customer significantly increases. So when a customer who would normally give you the benefit of the doubt takes their business elsewhere, the problem is almost always the service they've received. Try to find out the real reason they defected, and use that information to prevent it from happening again. Remember that flexibility is needed in order to make changes in company based on information from lost customers.  
  5. Fewer referrals A business with delighted customers should always be gaining new customers from referrals. If your service isn't good, referrals will drop off first - even before your existing customers defect to a competitor. This makes the continual monitoring of referral levels one of the most powerful indicators of ongoing customer satisfaction. To quote a wise mentor, "Satisfied customers buy from you, but delighted customers sell for you". Also, if you're gaining lots of new customers but losing just as many existing customers, this indicates a serious disparity between what your brand is promising and what it actually delivers.  
  6. Low morale Employees' morale is something that shows whenever they interact with customers, and the customer is quick to pick up on negative sentiment toward the company. While low morale is not always a result of poor customer service (although it can be due to a lack of empowerment), it always creates poor service. If this is the case, the management needs to try to instil a sense of pride throughout the company, and offer employees some well-deserved rewards and recognition. Empower employees to make decisions (within reasonable limits), and train them to make good decisions that have both the customer's and company's interests at heart.

While there are obviously more than six signs that identify bad customer service, these are certainly among the main ones to watch out for. If you recognise any single one of these six signs, the time has come to focus attention on fixing it urgently. If you recognise more than one of these six signs, there's no time to waste: you're already losing market share.

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